Packers play through the pain

Published On: Oct 29 2012 05:51:01 PM CDT
Green Bay Packers
GREEN BAY, Wis. -

At halftime of the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, the Oneida Nation dancers performed – and this is the 100 percent, God’s-honest truth – something called the “Healing Dance.”

Rest assured the dance was not at Mike McCarthy’s request. (It was, in fact, part of the Packers’ participation in the NFL’s breast cancer awareness program.)

As is his custom, the Packers head coach wasn’t using injuries as an excuse for his team’s lackluster performance, even though the Packers played without eight starters: Wide receiver Greg Jennings (torn abdominal muscle), wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring), fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) and running back Cedric Benson (Lisfranc foot sprain) on offense and safety Charles Woodson (broken collarbone), cornerback Sam Shields (ankle), outside linebacker Nick Perry (knee) and inside linebackers D.J. Smith (knee) and Desmond Bishop (hamstring). (Bishop went down in the preseason opener, and Smith had been his replacement.)

And McCarthy wasn’t changing his tune Monday, as he and the Packers (5-3) turned their attention to next Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals (4-3 entering their Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers).

“The injuries are part of the game. It’s unfortunate on a personal level,” McCarthy said after adding two more injuries to the list – defensive ends Jerel Worthy (concussion) and Mike Neal (knee)  “There’s things that go on in our world in the game of football that are just unsaid. It’s just the way you go about your business. It’s what you accept and it’s part of the grind of an NFL season.

“People ask me, ‘How does it impact your football team?’ I’ve never taken the time to try to quantify the impact it has on your team.”

Both McCarthy’s coordinators acknowledged that the injuries do impact planning. For instance, with so many players down, McCarthy cut practices short on both Wednesday and Thursday. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements estimated that the team lost roughly 15 percent of its regular practice snaps, going through them at a jog-through speed while doing offense-against-offense and defense-against-defense drills rather than doing offense-versus-defense regular-speed periods.

“Which we had to do just because of the injury situation trying to keep guys healthy,” Clements explained. “But we didn’t have as many ‘live reps,’ if you want to call them that.

“Obviously when you don’t have quality guys like (Jennings and Nelson), you have to overcome it. (But) injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. You try to avoid them, and it’s unfortunate when top guys get hurt, but you have to play with the guys who are there.”

Said defensive coordinator Dom Capers: “You have to adapt based on who you have out there, but I don’t think it’s made us any less aggressive. If you look at our numbers over the last three weeks, we’ve been the most aggressive. So maybe it goes the other way. But you adapt.”

Of course, amid the Packers’ health-related misfortune – it’s beginning to look a lot like 2010, everywhere you go – there is good news: Of those aforementioned 11 players, only Smith and Bishop are done for the year. Benson is on injured reserve but has been designated for return, which he says he is on schedule to do.

“That is the positive,” said Benson, who went down Oct. 7 at Indianapolis, was put on IR three days later but will be eligible to return to practice after six weeks and could play Dec. 9 game against Detroit. “Everybody’s expecting to come back and looking forward to coming back and really excited about coming back. That is the positive thing in all these injuries.”

The challenge for those still standing, of course, is to make sure the Packers win enough games in the interim. Sunday’s win over the lowly Jaguars (1-6) was a perfect example: What it lacked in aesthetics, it made up for in practicality, as they managed to win – and win ugly. Even McCarthy recognized that some of his players weren’t pleased with the victory

“I concluded our team meeting – after being direct about the facts of the game, more importantly – (by saying), ‘Let’s quit walking around like we lost the damn game.’ We’re 5-3, whether you like it or not. We’re going to get better. That’s where we’re going.”

And part of the reason why the Packers can feel that their collective arrow is pointing up is knowing reinforcements will be on the way. The Packers have now won three straight and have a chance to entire their Nov. 11 bye with a four-game winning streak entering their seven-game stretch run.

“Especially if you can get victories now with your key playmakers down,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Getting those guys back, they should return with fresh legs, healthy, ready to make an immediate impact. If we’re looking down the road, guys like Charles Woodson, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, a healthy B.J. (Raji), you get all these guys healthy, you have your team at full strength, and that’s when you want to peak is at the end of the season.”

The Packers certainly know a thing or two about that. In 2010, they faced a similar injury epidemic and hit their Week 10 bye at 6-3, just as they’re aiming to do this year. They were just 8-6 and faced must-win situations in their final two regular-season games, made the playoffs as a No. 6 seed and won four straight postseason games away from Lambeau Field, including Super Bowl XLV.

“I think it’s going to make us stronger, because when those guys do come back, imagine how good we’ll be then,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “If we can just win and get better until they get back, then the experience the guys will have gained when they wouldn’t have played if those guys weren’t out, that’ll take us far. The glass is half full.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.